It seems like CBD is everywhere. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, it’s found in oils and topical creams – even hamburgers and pet products. Clearly, consumer demand is on the rise, and businesses are stepping up to satisfy that demand.
At the same time, reports from around the United States show that much of the CBD on store shelves isn’t what it purports to be. Some products contain more or less CBD than their labels indicate, some products have dangerous levels of pesticides, and some even include heavy metals or residual solvents. None of these are part of any skin care regimen that spa owners would recommend to their clients.
Given that environment, how can you know that the products on your shelves are actually delivering for your clients? How can you tell which suppliers are truly committed to the same standards for manufacturing safety, quality, and transparency that you expect from the rest of the skin care industry?
The standard advice is to rely on the certificate of analysis (COA) that the company provides with the product. And, until recently, the existence of a COA was enough to distinguish good suppliers from sketchy ones. As the industry has grown, more and more unscrupulous manufacturers, white labelers, and suspect laboratories are springing up and providing COAs that leave out key information in an effort to make products sound better than they really are.
To help businesses better serve their customers, below is a brief primer on what to look for when reviewing that all-important COA.
IT’S ALL ABOUT LEVELS
The most important thing a COA can tell you is how much of a given substance a sample contains. Most COAs are very clear on how much CBD is in the product, how much THC is present, and whether or not there are heavy metals, pesticides, or solvents in the product. Most often, they’ll note non-detectable (ND) levels of undesirable components.
But this is a bit of a shell game because the easiest and most common way to make a substandard product look like a premium one is by adjusting the thresholds for testing.
A quality laboratory test should be very specific about a value called a limit of detection (LoD) or limit of quantitation (LoQ). This indicates the smallest concentration the laboratory can (or chooses to) detect a given substance.
So, laboratory tests with different LoQs will return different results for the same product. If a laboratory only tests for THC above, say, a 1% threshold, then a product with 0.99% THC would produce a COA showing a non-detectable result, despite having a level of THC that would make many people uncomfortable. Another lab that uses a 0.3% LoQ would return a positive result and a real numerical value when testing the same product.
The same game is commonplace when it comes to pesticides, heavy metals, and residual solvents.
HOW TO PICK QUALITY PRODUCTS
When it comes time to purchase products to put on store shelves, the best advice is simple – be skeptical and ask questions.
If products don’t come with a COA, ask for one. If a seller refuses or pushes back at all – look somewhere else.
Make sure that the COA includes the laboratory’s name, and ask if the laboratory is independent, because many companies operate their own testing facilities. When reviewing the COA, look for an address and a license number for the laboratory. Ensure that the COA has a date and that it includes a batch number for the product in question that matches what you find on the product label.
Check the LoQs for each compound and make sure they seem low enough to trust. If the COA doesn’t list the LoQ, ask about it. Then, make sure that the laboratory test matches what it says on the package.
These steps will take some time and energy, but none of this requires an advanced degree in science. Using common sense and armed with a basic understanding of what to look for, skin care professionals can easily ensure that the products they sell to their clients are legitimate. Talking about the critical eye used during the purchasing process should also help clients trust the products you offer.
Josh Epstein serves as CEO of Socati Corp, a leading manufacturer of broad-spectrum hemp extract as ingredients for the food, beverage, and cosmetic industries. Prior to Socati, Epstein was president and chief operating officer of Nuuvera Corporation, an international cannabis company. Prior to Nuuvera, Epstein was partner with FastForward Innovations Ltd., where he oversaw investments and divestitures of the firm’s portfolio companies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, and China. Prior to FastForward, Epstein practiced law with the international law firm Baker Botts, LLP. Epstein holds a JD from the University of Texas School of Law and an MBA from the Acton School of Business in Austin, Texas, with a focus on entrepreneurship.